The fault lines in our economy and in our politics have been well and truly exposed by Brexit, but it has taken many years of crisis in our communities to get to where we are. After decades of deindustrialisation – with precarious and low-paid work replacing secure, unionised jobs – people needed hope through investment, shared prosperity and a new, common stake in society. What they got instead was a financial crash, foisted upon them by the banks, followed by a decade of crippling Tory austerity. This has led to nothing short of a complete breakdown in the aspirations of many communities up and down the country. Young people today may be the first generation since the war to have fewer opportunities and lower earnings than their parents’ generation.
When hope is missing, dangerous political agendas fill the void. It has happened throughout history: working people are plunged into crisis, the status quo has no solutions, then demagogues pop up promising “change” – though the change on offer is nothing more than creating scapegoats and stoking fear. Europe saw it in the 1930s, and inward-looking ideas are once again on the rise, with Trump in the US, Orban in Hungary and Salvini in Italy. These are dangerous times all over the world.
Today, a certain political party is riding high in the polls for elections to the European Parliament, right here in the UK. It doesn’t yet have any well-developed policies, and brags about the fact! It is propagating a similar message of inwardness to that of Trump. I am, of course, talking about Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.
Farage, an MEP for two decades who was born into wealth, is exploiting the difficult circumstances that so many find themselves in. Rather than blame the bankers for the crisis they plunged working people into (he is, of course, a former commodities broker), he demonises the weak, just as his pals Steve Bannon and Donald Trump have done.
Just three years ago, as UKIP leader, he famously pointed the finger at refugees fleeing atrocities without a thought for or understanding of each person’s story. It was a moment of national shame. This type of othering and scapegoating offers no solution to our shattered economics and our tired politics.
That is one danger in a social environment of hopelessness. The other is that of apathy, which also thrives when people feel they are without opportunity. Labour needs to enthuse these people, talk about how we can transform our society for the better, and get them to vote for hope – not just at a general election, but also at every local election and of course the upcoming European elections.
We have now had a decade of austerity. 14 million people live in financial hardship, with 1.6m of those at the sharp end dependent on food banks. Nearly two million pensioners do not have enough to live on, and new figures show child poverty is soaring. Unscrupulous employers continue to exploit workers through agencies from across Europe. Meanwhile, the government has failed to build the homes that families need, and our public services are crumbling.
These have all been political choices – first, of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, and now of this rotten Tory government that has polarised our country like none since the miners’ strike. None of these political choices were made in Brussels. They were all made here, in this country, in Westminster.
I get why voting for the Brexit Party is attractive to some. The North and much of the Midlands have still not recovered from the industrial devastation inflicted by Margaret Thatcher. Today, regional inequality is suffocating communities that were once the bedrock of a society built on decent homes and decent jobs for all. People, especially older people who have seen the decline, are looking around for alternatives. But the Brexit Party is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. No society has ever been rebuilt fairly, for the many, when its politics have come from a place of nationalist introspection and isolating nostalgia.
On May 23rd, the electorate will have a choice. Only Labour has an offer that can heal the nation and begin to end the divisions that currently afflict it. By focusing on the radical reforms that unite us – exciting policies developed under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership that will transform the lives of the many, from a living wage to a national investment bank – Labour can win hearts and rebuild Britain again.
I also believe that a confirmatory referendum on Brexit provides a path towards bringing the country back together again. The public is sick to death of our current turmoil and political impasse, and must be empowered through a final say on where we are headed as a country.
Only a campaigning Labour Party can beat Farage and push back against his hard-right politics of fear. Labour wins may also be decisive in swinging the European parliament in favour of progressives. Our job – as party members, activists and representatives – is to go out there, campaign on our values and enthuse people. We win when are bold, and we need to win now more than ever.
Love Socialism Hate Brexit is a group of radical and socialist Labour MPs fighting to stop Brexit. We will be writing a column for LabourList every week until the Brexit crisis is over. You can find out more about us here, and follow us on Twitter here.